Literature Circle Guide

How to Create a Classroom Literature Circle

One thing that teachers should be aware of when experimenting with literature circles is that no two circles are alike.

According to Katherine L. Schlick Noe, an education professor at Seattle University who has written extensively on the subject of literature circles, “it’s an approach that’s so different in every classroom.” “There are so many different ways that people use them.”

The ability to be simple and adaptable are the keys to success. Furthermore, while it may appear that the most logical subjects in which to use literature circles are those that require a lot of reading, such as language arts, history, and English, literature circles can be used in a variety of other subjects as well. When a high school science teacher in North Carolina uses literature circles to help her students understand complex scientific terms, she is setting an example for others to follow.

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As a starting point, Noe recommends that teachers give students one thing to think about and place an emphasis on the conversation, starting with an initial five or ten-minute discussion. Teachers can arrange the circles so that each group meets one at a time, with the teacher sitting in, or they can arrange them so that all of the circles meet at the same time, with the teacher rotating among them.

A common error made by teachers is to assign students too much work, such as a long list of questions or a complicated project that they are not familiar with. Their energy then goes into the tasks rather than delving deeply into the books, Noe explains. She suggests students use Post-it notes to mark passages or pages they want to discuss, or write down a quote or a thought as they’re reading to prepare them for the circle discussion.

Here are a few tips:

Offer students a choice. Sixth-grade teacher Alisa Gladstone says letting her students pick a book, a theme, and a project gives even the most reluctant reader a vested interest in the material.
Don’t dominate the discussion. Part of the fun is seeing where the students go in the circle. Teachers should observe, offer feedback, and gently guide things back on track when necessary, but they should not micromanage.
Encourage reflection. After the students finish their circle, have them write about what they thought of the discussion. For younger students, it can be a few sentences. For older students, it can be a stream-of-consciousness-style journal entry.
Assign a project to each participant. The end of the book discussion is often marked by the completion of projects by the students. According to Noe, this is a particularly effective method of expressing themselves for nonverbal students in particular. Gladstone’s students created maps, acrostic poems, and timelines, among other things. Students in first-grade teacher Jennifer McFarland’s class have created puppet shows, dioramas, and a story quilt, among other things.

Get Around to Circles

Keep an eye out for common pitfalls. Students who read too far ahead and give away the ending, students who arrive unprepared, and discussions that deviate too far from the original topic can all derail a literature circle session. McFarland meets with parents at the beginning of the school year to discuss the importance of ensuring that their children do not read beyond the assigned reading.
Make Your Way Around in Circles
More information on literature circles, as well as additional suggestions for getting started, can be found at the following Web sites:

The Literature Circles Resource Center provides examples of different methods from teachers, resources for doing theme units, and suggestions for how to choose books and projects for Literature Circles classes.
An example of a literature circle is demonstrated in this video from Carol Morgan School in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
The classroom Web page of Jennifer McFarland, a fourth-grade teacher, includes examples of literature circle projects.
The website contains reviews of books that are appropriate for use in literature circles.